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Lacey's Village Lutheran Church Serves as 'First Responders' After Sandy

The Village Lutheran Church in Lacey Township is offering free tree services

Volunteers have traveled from throughout the country to connect with the Village Lutheran Church in Forked River to assist locals with free tree services after Hurricane Sandy. The church is assisting those throughout Ocean County.

“The Lutheran Church is well known for disaster response. They’re very much first responders,” said Tracey Stillman, wife of Pastor Mark Stillman at the Village Lutheran Church.

The Village Lutheran Church in Lacey has been responding to natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the region, the church called the disaster center of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and hooked up with Ed Brashier of Gardendale, Ala., a retired lineman and Director Shepherd’s Heart Disaster Response Ministry.

The ministry has the purpose of: “Showing the love of Jesus after natural disasters by offering free tree and debris removal to the uninsured, under insured and low income families.”

Since he arrived more than three weeks ago, the church has received thousands of calls for tree services, Stillman said.

The church is reaching out to a variety of people but mostly those who are in need such as seniors, the physically disabled, and single parents.

“We don’t want to do free work for anybody. We’re trying to help people who can’t help themselves,” Brashier said.

For an Oak tree, estimates can range from $1,500 to $15,000, he said.

One church member, who is stricken with cancer, had an estimate at $3,000. His medication costs more than $6,000.

“People are having to choose between trees and life saving medications,” Stillman said.

The church has launched chainsaw training for those interested in volunteering, she said.

Although the volunteers haven’t faced homes that were struck by trees, there was one yard in Lacey that was covered with fallen trees on each side, she said. Release forms are signed for each job.

Those who call for the service are put on a list and the church calls a day prior to arriving, Brashier said. Service isn’t necessarily immediate since there are so many requests.

Each home has approximately one to five trees that need cutting, he said. The service only does trees that are already down due to the hurricane or nor’easter.

With the volume of requests, Shepherd’s Heart could be in town for another six months, he said.

Although, the church has received calls from as far as New York and Virginia, the free tree service is being offered to the following counties: Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer, Burlington and Atlantic.

Jan Gerzevske, 67, of Wheaton, Illinois drove 14 hours to spend six days in Lacey and volunteer for the tree service. The teams bring sleeping bags and air mattresses and sleep in the church. Last week, three more teams came.

“I came as part of the chainsaw crew,” she said, although she didn’t actually use a chainsaw. Gerzevske mainly moved branches.

“I’ve done this numerous times. I’m part of part of the Lutheran Early Response Team,” she said. “I put on my hardhat, work gloves, work boots and get all dressed up, go out there and pull branches, take them to street, stack wood for fireplaces and push logs around.”

Gerzevske has been trained through the Missouri Synod to do such work, including how to deal with mold in homes, tarp and patch rooftops, first aid and search and rescue.

She became involved more than 10 years ago when she became a widow, she said.

“I got his entire pension from the company he worked at. I feel since I have this gift really, that it’s my duty to give back and serve the Lord since he’s been so good to me,” she said.

Those areas where Gerzevske traveled—Lanoka Harbor, Freehold and Howell—to provide the tree service are not the worst she’s seen, she said.

“I’ve worked where there have been tornadoes. This was not as bad as a tornado because when you have a tornado it goes through a specific area and dumps everything,” she said.

But, it’s just as devastating for those living along the Jersey Shore, she said. Some residents who have insurance aren’t covered unless there was damage done to the dwelling, she said.

“We wanted to help people that just couldn’t do it themselves,” she said.

One resident just had a hip replaced and needs his second done too.

“There was no way for him to go out there and work on what came down in his yard,” she said.

Another had a tree drop from his property onto a fire road, she said. The township informed him that he had to remove it but he hadn’t worked in three years due to a heart condition.

“Our desire was to help people recover from this literally disaster with our way of showing our Christian love,” she said.

Call 609-693-1333 for more information or to request services.

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